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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 4 August 2016
Rural Alabama in the 1920s is on the verge of electrification. Already, the pylons take the current from town to town, passing over the heads of poor farmers who think it is witchcraft. It is a power that is seen to be slightly beyond comprehension and slightly beyond control.

But, for Roscoe Martin, wedded to an unforgiving wife and her family’s failing farm, it is an opportunity to evolve. With powered machinery, the farm would not just turn a profit, it could reap huge productivity dividends. With some technical know-how, it is a sinch for Roscoe to hook up into the grid, siphoning off power that would be lost anyway through onward transmission. And Wilson, the wise black farm manager seems willing to go along with it…

However, the reader knows from the very opening words that it is not going to go well. The current will kill a man, and ultimately Roscoe and Wilson are called upon to pay the price. Roscoe receives injustice as his punishment far outweighs an offence that would now seem trivial; Wilson receives an injustice as he is deemed to be an accomplice to a project that would only ever have benefited Roscoe.

For the first two thirds of the novel, we interleave chapters narrated by a third person, and chapters narrated directly by Roscoe from prison. This works well up to a point, and of course there is an inevitable contrast drawn between Roscoe’s incarceration for having killed a man by electrocution, and the nascent use by the prison system of the electric chair. Unfortunately, the prison chapters soon run out of much to say and both sets of chapters end up telling the backstory. It is very well told, but it does feel as though the narrative, like Roscoe’s sentence, is unnecessarily prolonged, running to 20 chapters simply to match Roscoe’s sentence.

The final third of the novel abandons the chapter format and gives a first person narrative of Roscoe’s life on release. This offers plenty of opportunity to compare and contrast Roscoe and Wilson’s experiences and fortunes. It is pretty emotional in places. What it lacks, though, is any terribly cogent rationale for how things ended up as they had. This doesn’t seem to be a case of crime and punishment, or even behaviour and consequences. It just seems to be random outcomes from unjust situations with characters behaving strangely given all that we have come to know about them.

This is not a bad novel; even if parts of it can feel repetitive, it is not a long novel and it mixes the bleakness with humour and sunlight. There are some interesting ideas knocking around. But overall, it doesn’t quite work; it is not as profound as it clearly hopes to be.
8 people found this helpful
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on 4 May 2017
What a sad story of a time when mid America was a harsh place to be poor and on the bread line. If you stepped out of line the prison conditions were brutal and the people who worked in them were illiterate and had no compassion. It made me want to weep for Roscoe and Wilson.
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on 4 February 2018
Depressing, tragic, bleak, cruel, - I loved it. Your heart bleeds for the injustices done to Roscoe by the prison system but mainly by his wife. Wilson and Moa have also suffered greatly but they have forgiveness and love in their hearts whilst Marie has selfishness and cruelty. Their story is told quite poetically, it even waxes lyrical about the workings of electricity! But vthere is no happy ending to this sad tale.
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on 27 March 2017
Gem of a book. I had high expectations and was not disappointed.

The story line, characters and irony of the novel is all superb. Immediately transported into a different and tough world, in which the promise of the future can damage the present. No need to say more, give this book a chance.
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on 27 August 2016
I really enjoyed the first half of this book, especially the locations and the subject. However I began to find that this book dragged in the second half, there was still drama and action but by this point I had realised that I didn't care much for the main characters - no one was rounded enough to feel for them or be that bothered by what was happening. I felt that the plot was interesting but the characters needed more work so that I cared more about what was happening.
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on 17 February 2018
An unusual but interesting story set in rural America just before household electricity became commonplace.
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on 19 January 2018
Beautifully written, emotive and absorbing. Give it a little time to get going - I wasn't sure how much I was going to get into it to begin with, but I soon became attached to the characters and their stories, and by the second half I couldn't put it down. One of those books that you're sad to finish, because you will miss the characters.
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on 6 July 2017
Very good book. Different, quiet type of read. As the titled says it demonstrates the value of work to get you through.
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on 16 December 2017
Excellent read. Thoughtful, well paced and holds interest from start to finish.
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on 28 June 2017
A very fine piece of serious literature.
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